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Bird Watching in Bhutan

While in many other parts of the Himalayas the destruction of forests and loss of habitats have severely reduced wild life population, Bhutan has a rich and varied biological diversity. Forest covers nearly two-third of Bhutan’s total land area. Ecologically, Bhutan is recognized as one of the ten biodiversity hotspots in the world. Some 26.23% of the country’s area is protected through National Parks. In addition, a further 9% has been declared as Biological Corridors, connecting protected areas, and there are series of Conservation Areas intended to protect important conservation sites outside the formal Protected Areas systems. Inventories have indicated that there are more than 7000 species of vascular plants, more than 770 species of avifauna and more than 220 species of mammals, with many species being endemic to Bhutan.

The National Conservation Plan for Bhutan provides a provisional list of 178 species based on predicted occurrence. This includes a wide variety of wild animals such as tigers, leopard, wild buffalo, bison, and several species of deer, wild tuskers, blue bear, red panda and the rare golden langur which is found exclusively in Bhutan. The Takin, also one of the major attractions along Bhutan’s trekking routes (although difficult to sight due to its shy nature), is also a rare animal species and the national animal of Bhutan.

The various species of plants include 300 species of medicinal plants, 50 species of Rhododendrons, 600 species of Orchids commonly found at the elevation of 2100m, 6930ft and some plants that grow above 3800m/12540ft.  Bhutan also has varieties of flowers such as Blue Poppy (Bhutan’s national flower), unique caterpillar fungus Cordyceps sinensis, and edelweiss, primrose, anemone and lady slippers. They bloom from late May to July and are one of the major attractions for trekking in Bhutan which also includes wide varieties of mushrooms.

Bird species in the primeval forests of Bhutan are considerable. To date, some 675 species have been recorded out of which there are two critical and eight endangered faunal species in Bhutan. Of these the Black – Necked Crane is one of the rarest and most endangered birds. Some of the encounter includes the incomparably beautiful Ward’s Tragon, The endangered Hornbill, all three of the little known Spelacornis babblers, Satyr Tragopan, glowing sunbirds, dapper grosbeaks, fabulous lbisill, mynas, blue-fronted redstarts, long-tailed shrikes and Eurasian sparrows, serpent eagle, golden-throated barbet, and the yellow-bellied flowerpecker,…etc.


Day 1 – Arrive at the Paro Airport.  Altitude: 2280m/ 7524ft above sea level(1 hour 30 minutes drive).
Later arrive and transfer to hotel.
Orientation tour of the major sights of Paro valley
Walk up the Paro main street for some handicrafts.

Later visit, Ta Dzong: This means - watch tower, which it served as during the 17th century to guard the region from the Tibetan invasion. It was converted to the National Museum in 1968 which has collections of textiles, handicrafts, etc...

Rimpung Dzong: Means fortress of the heap of jewels. It was built during the time of Zhabdrung (deeply revered to this day as dynamic political and spiritual leader) in 1644. It is also the venue for the Paro festival (Tsechu).

Kichu Lhakhang(Monastery): It is one of the two most sacred and the oldest temples in Bhutan. It was built in 7th century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo.

Overnight in Paro. 

Day 2 – Day Excursion to Chelila, the highest road point in Bhutan.

Today we shall drive to the Chelila pass, which is the highest road point in Bhutan at about 14000 feet. We shall stop at the pass and hike along the ridge through prayer flags and alpine vegetation of dwarf rhododendrons, juniper, and gentians edelweiss. If the weather is clear, which generally is at this time of the year, we shout get fantastic view of the sacred mountain, Mt, Jjhomolhari. We shall picnic at the pass and also look for high altitude birds, such as rose finches, grosbeaks, blood pheasants and Himalayan griffons. The view from the pass will also orient us on the places that we will be visiting in the next two weeks. On the way back we shall visit an ancient monastery, Dzongdradkha, build on a cliff face.

Overnight in Paro.

Day 3 – Paro to Thimphu. 

After breakfast we’ll drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan (elevation 7610 ft_). The 35mi drive takes about 1 ½ hours. En route, we‘ll probably make a brief stop at the sewage treatment plant – which has some of the best waterfowls and shorebird birding around. Highlight of previous visits included bareheaded Geese, ruddy She ducks, Ibis bills, sandpipers and river lapwings.
Zorig Chusum Institute: The 13 arts and Crafts institute. The two main objectives of the institute are a) to preserve and promote the traditional arts and crafts and b) to create job opportunities for the underprivileged group of the society.

Folk Heritage museum: It was inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, who is the founder and patron of the Museum, on 28th July 2001.It is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through exhibition of its items and artifacts used in rural households.

Memorial Chorten:  This particular chorten was constructed in 1974 as a memorial for the third King of the country, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is widely regarded as the father of modern Bhutan.

Mini zoo: Here you can see just one animal - Bhutan’s national animal- the Takin. This is an extremely rare member of the goat family. Found in herds in the very high altitudes (13,125ft and over). They live on a diet of grass and bamboo.

Sangaygang View Point:  The view point is also the perfect place to take in some truly breathtaking views of the entire city of Thimpu and also later visit Kuenselcholing hilltop where the largest Buddha in the world is being built.

Overnight in Thimphu.

Day 4 – Thimphu to Punakha/Wangdue. Altitude: 1350m/4455ft above sea level.(1hour 30 minutes drive)

Morning visit the weekend market: Held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the people crowd the stalls every day, dressed in full colour and gathered to meet and to barter, much like the street markets in London! 

Later take a hike to Cheri Monastery(Includes Dodina and Jigme Dorji Wild life Sanctuary): Hike about 1hrs(to and fro) leds to Cheri Goemba (Cheri Dorji Dhen). Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this monastery in 1620 and established the first monk body here. A chance to spot birds such as Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Yellow-browed Tit, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Long-billed Thrush, Ultramarine Flycatcher.
Textile museum: It was established with the aim of preserving and promoting Bhutanese textile arts.

Paper factory: The handmade paper making in Bhutan stemmed from the age old tradition originated in 8th century of Bhutanese history. The handmade paper constitutes as valuable National heritage of Bhutanese cultural identity and is preserved through all the ages. The Traditional paper is recognized and held high esteem both in home and outside world.

Later drive to Punakha/Wangdue

Overnight in Wangduephodrang

Day 5 – Wangdue to Trongsa. Altitude: 2200m /7260ft above sea level.(5 hours drive)


In the morning visit the Wangduephodrang Dzong and then continue driving to historic valley of Trongsa.

After dinner for half an hours along relatively level road, the road climbs up along the western slope of the Black mountains until we cross the Pele la (11218) and start down into central Bhutan. The sweeping pastures of dwarf bamboo just beyond the pass will offer us our trip’s best change to see yak and their herders. A few miles further down the road lies the very picturesque village of Rukubji, build on the head of a snake –shaped ridge carpeted in bright- yellow –blooming mustard. A short while later we’ll pass the impressive Nepali-style Chendebji Chorten, which we will visit on our way back west. During most of the morning’s drive we’ll have inspiring cross- valley views of the trackless old- growth forests on the steep north- facing slopes of the Black Mountains. The recent Bhutanese film “Travelers’ and Magicians” was shot along this road. One of the better birds we’ll hope to see en route is the crested Mountain Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis).

Nearly an hour before we reach there on the winding road, we’ll have our first glimpses of golden- roofed Trongsa Dzong  across the breathtaking depths of the Mangde chhu gorge.Built atop the  crest of a narrow ridge, it is, without doubt, the most spectacularly sited dzong in all of Bhutan. It’s perched so far above the river that the clouds frequently float below it. We will stop in Trongsa (elevation 7150 ft) and visit the Dzong, one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. Trongsa lies in the middle of Bhutan, and in times past, all east-to-west traffic passed through the dzong. Because the tolls he could collect were a substantial steady income, the Trongsa Penlop (governor), who commanded the dzong and administered the surrounding district, was always a force to be reckoned with. The dzong was much damaged by an earthquake in  1897,and much of what we see today dates to the rebuilding undertaken by Jigme Namgyal, the then Trongsa Penlop, and the father of Ugyen Wangchuk, who was elected the first king of Bhutan in  1907. Because the Trongsa Dzong was built on a vary narrow ridge, its courtyards are much less spacious than those of the other dzongs we’ll visit (at Punakha and Paro), and one is more conscious of the buildings’ thick and battered walls, and their sculptural forms. It is every bit as impressive from inside as from outside.

Overnight in Trongsa.

Day 6 – Trongsa to Bumthang. Altitude: 2600m/ 8580ft above sea level.(3 hours drive)

Do get up early to absorb your view over the dzong. After breakfast, we’ll drive south along the road toward the district of Zhemgang. This road is excellent for birding. We’ll stop frequently to walk through thick, highly- diverse, lower- elevation mixed forests. We will probably see several forktails (genus enicurus) and Grey Treepies (Dendrocitta formosae); Yellow-rumped Honeyguides (Indicator xanthonotus) and trogons (genus Harpactes) will be reasonable possibilities. We may also see the Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), a  beautiful primate found only in Bhutan and a small part of India. We will also visit Kuenga Rabten, the winter palace of Jigme Wangchuck, Bhutan’s second King.


n the afternoon drive to Bumthang, the cultural hearthland of Bhutan. Above Trongsa the road climbs through many switchbacks, and then it passes through a misty forest of Silver Firs and bamboo on the way to Yotong La (11234 ft). Soon after the pass, the forest changes to the blue Pines characteristic of Bumthang. After about 30 minutes of driving through the pine forest, we will arrive at Gyetsa, at the upper end of the Chhume Valley- the first of Bumthang’s four major valleys. Gyetsa is the winter home of several Black- necked Cranes, but because they tend to arrive later than Phobjikha’s cranes, we may not fine them in residence. After driving the length of the Chhume valley, we’ll stop at Zungney in the Chumay valley to watch local women weaving yathra- Bumthang’s famous hand- spun, hand- woven, and boldly patterned woolen cloth, and do a little shopping. A little further from here we’ll cross an easy pass (Kiki La, 9381 ft), and come into the Choskhor Valley, the main valley of Bumthang. We will be staying in Jakar town (elevation 8462 ft) below the dzong which gave the town its name. “Ja” means bird in Dzongkha, and “kar” means white. When sites for a Bumthang dzong were being considered an auspicious omen sealed the decision. A White bird- now believed to have been a Black- necked Crane- landed at the site where the Jakar Dzong now stands.

Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 7 – In Bumthang

Morning visit, Jakar Dzong :The Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549 by the great grandfather of the Zhabdrung.

Jambay Lhakhang: It is one of the 108 monasteries built by King Songtsen Goenpo in the 8th century to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. 

Kurjey Lhakhang: Means body print. It dates back to 8th century when Guru Rimpoche first visited Bhutan. It is after his visit to the Monyul (country in the darkness); Buddhism was introduced in the country.  

Then hike across to Tamzhing Lhakhang: “Temple of good message”. It was built by Terton Pema Lingpa (Treasure Discoverer) in 1501AD. We can see the paintings done by him on the wall and an iron jacket which was also made by him.

Mebar Tsho(Lake of Burning Fire):This is a sacred lake for Bhutanese who believe that Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures from this lake in the 12th century.
Later stroll around the town.

Overnight in Bumthang.


Day 8 – Bumthang to Gangtey. Altitude: 2800m/ 9240ft above sea level (5 hours drive)

We will depart early and drive back along much of the same route until the Pele la pass, from where we shall turn left towards the enchanted valley of Phobjikha.
Phobjikha (9600 feet) is a designated conservation area, which lies adjacent to Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (formerly called Black Mountain National Park). Because of the presence of the large flock of Black- necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis) that winters in the valley- about 260 of them- Phobjikha is one of the most important wildlife preserves in Bhutan. The first crane arrive from Tibet in late October, and by mid- November their numbers will have increased to between 150 and 170. New migrants usually arrive in early afternoon. By late afternoon, the cranes have flocked together in the valley’s large wetland, at their roost (the place where they spend the night). Upon arrival at Phobjikha, we’ll go out to the blind that looks out over the roost to watch the cranes gather for the night, and to conduct a crane count.

There is no electricity in Phobjikha and the rooms are lit by dim solar- powered lights. The silence is delicious and only broken by the calls of cranes.

Overnight in Phobjikha.

Day 9 – Phobjikha to Punakha

After breakfast we shall visit the royal Society for the Protection of Nature’s (RSPN) attractive new Observation and Education Center, where a presentation on RSPN’S will be made by their staff. The center has artful and effective educational displays about the valley and its cranes, a small showroom, which sells weavings made by local women, and a great view of the marshland- and its cranes. Constructed as part of RSPN’s Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) in the Phobjikha valley, the center was partly funded by the international crane foundation and ICF members. The women’s group of Phobjikha  will perform some folk dances at the centre . Lunch will be served at the centre and then we will drive to Punakha.

Later visit, Punakha Dzong (fortress): Built in 1637 by Zhabdrung which is remarkably located between the rivers of Mo (Female) Chu (river) and Pho (Male) Chu. Until the time of second king it served as a seat of the king.  

Chimi Lhakhang(Temple of fertility): This Temple was built by lam Drukpa Kuenley (The Divine Madman) in 1499. It is about thirty minutes hike across fields from the road –Wooden phalluses are often found hanging in the four corners of the houses and also phalluses are painted on the walls of houses. It is the common belief that this helps in driving away evil spirits.

Overnight in Punakha/Wangdue
Day 10 – In Punakha (White- bellied Heron Quest)

Today we will drive north from Punakha, through one of the best birding areas in Bhutan –the valley of the mo chhu –to the Tserim Orchid Sanctuary on the southern edge of Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan’s largest protected area. Although it’s unlikely that there will be many orchids in bloom, the deep forest is inspiring, the riverbank is a great place for a picnic, and birds are abundant.

The quest for the day will be to find the extremely rare White-bellied (or Imperial) Heron (Ardea insignis) along the way to the orchid sanctuary. The world’s rarest heron, and one of the fifty rarest birds in the world- it has been estimated that there are fewer than 207 of them- this species has apparently disappeared from Nepal, and is only extremely rarely sighted in Assam, but it is relatively frequently seen along the upper Mo Chhu. After one of ICF’s 2002 expeditions had spectacular success finding this bird, we arranged funding to have RSPN survey Bhutan to ascertain its distribution and status. If you’re photographically inclined, today will afford real opportunity. No really good photographs of the Mo Chhu heron(s?) have yet been shot. Another rare, and very impressive, bird that we may well find en route is Pallas Fish Eagle ( Haliaeetus leucoryphus).

Overnight in Punakha/Wangdue.

Day 11 – Punakha to Thimphu  to Paro

We will drive to Paro(4 hours 30 minutes drive).

Once we reach Dochula on the way to Paro, if interested we will take rest and sip a cup of in the cafeteria and then we will hike to the 18th century Lungchotse Lhakhang. For those who do not fancy walking for hours seeking solitude and peace of mind yet would like to have that, this is the place to go.

Overnight in Paro.

Day 12 – Depart from Paro
Early breakfast at the hotel and then drive to the airport. Your escort will assist you with exit formalities and bid you farewell.